Partner and Executive Coach Susan Diehl talks about her negotiating skills and how she uses them to help CEOs align their leadership teams and achieve sustained success.

HOW DID YOU GAIN YOUR NEGOTIATION SKILLS?

First, it is the way that I was raised. My father was very entrepreneurial and I learned a lot about the importance of working with others toward a point of agreement.

In addition to my upbringing, my background as a lawyer has focused my efforts toward finding ways of reaching agreement even when contentious.

In a way, it is simple: focus past the “what.” The “what” is the endpoint; it is the thing that you want. But the “how” is the process for getting there, and focusing on the “how” is what negotiation is really about. It is a process of discovery where two opposing sides can move past what they want to what the other person wants – that and focusing on the process results in win-win outcomes.

And it often takes the help of a third-party negotiator to get there.

OTHER THAN YOUR LEGAL TRAINING, WHAT FORMAL PREPARATION HAVE YOU DONE?

I was very interested in how healthy negotiation really worked, so I earned a Master’s Degree in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution. In the process, I discovered that there really is a scientific framework that can guide constructive and successful negotiation. The scientific process is rooted in things like game theory and it takes into consideration a recognition of different behavioral styles, personality differences, and an assessment of the self-awareness display by the negotiating parties.

These “components” can help predict the kind of negotiation that is required, and helps someone like me know how to guide the conversation.

Any worthwhile negotiation must start with a clear understanding of people’s needs and their preferences.

DO YOU DO MORE THAN LISTEN?

One of the biggest contributions I make early on is to move the parties from a subjective to objective conversation. Being able to talk objectively about what got the parties to the point of negotiation and to focus on questions like “how will you do this” is a way that I try to guide the conversation toward solutions.

Negotiating can be the kind of exercise many of us think it is: a win-lose approach where one party gains only if the other loses. However, the way to get past that, I believe, is to engage in what is called integrative bargaining. Rather than a traditional transactional approach where each side fights for what they want, the integrative approach asks each side to solve the other’s problem.

HOW DO YOU WORK WITH CEOS AND LEADERSHIP TEAMS?

CEOs must know what they don’t know, and that takes a high level of emotional intelligence, some humility, and willingness to learn. A good coach will help the CEO leverage her team’s collective intelligence, build commitment among team members, and find solutions that stick.

And CEOs need to make sure that they make healthy negotiation possible. Without it, the organization suffers. If you fill out Patrick Lencioni’s anti-misery worksheet, you get an idea of what happens when organizations fail. They create anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurability. Those are really the elements of the anti-team.

DOES IT HAVE TO BE CONFRONTATIONAL?

Good negotiation should move participants away from confrontation. It does not have to be a zero sum game where the choice is an A vs B mindset. Healthy negotiation and conflict resolution is an attempt at getting what you want by solving the other person’s problems first.

The well-known orange negotiation is a good example of win-win. Two people want the same orange. In a zero sum world, one of them wins and one of them loses. However, when they work to understand the other person’s need, it becomes clear that one party wants to bake a cake that requires orange peels, while the other wants to eat the whole orange, except for the peel. In the emerging solution both parties get 100% of what they want.

The story is simple, but the challenge to solve the other party’s problem is a sound starting point.

PEOPLE ARE NOT ALWAYS IN CONFLICT, SO HOW DO NEGOTIATION SKILLS HELP A LEADERSHIP TEAMS OVERALL?

Of course, negotiation is happening all the time and it does not have to involve opposing parties sitting at different ends of a table. In a team setting we look for constructive engagement in all our interactions with colleagues. I believe that the more teams apply a sense of disciplined dialog to their negotiations, the more they will see that the right to participate fully in negotiation is earned, and it is earned in an iterative way where the right to dialogue further comes as more integrative negotiation happens.

Think of a setting where business partners are increasingly frustrated at their inability to constructively address business issues. Egos, past relationships, and personalities can all get in the way. A good negotiator will help individuals think through good and bad outcomes, share hopes and fears, and get participants to the point where real issues are being addressed and problems are being solved.

Sharing fears can lead to useful next steps. Tools like the Harvard Negotiation Framework are useful because participants can focus on issues (not people) and generate options based on third-party data. This is the kind of mediation model that I like to use to move people from fear to agreement on solutions.

HOW DOES NEGOTIATION DRIVE TEAM ALIGNMENT?

People need to know how to ask questions if they are going to solve problems. Asking questions is great because it is better than making assertions, it challenges you to think through the eyes of the third party, and it validates the concerns of the participant.

As people try to understand the needs of the other party, and as they restate, re-frame, and work to replace emotion with understanding, alignment increases.

When working with teams, it is important to coach others who may be high-performing individuals to become members of highly aligned teams. That requires an ongoing process of evolving the team with a series of ongoing negotiations along the way. Leadership team alignment requires a great deal of ongoing negotiation because the steps to real alignment take work and time.

And while it is an investment, it is true that when leadership teams negotiate toward alignment, they drive better outcomes for themselves, their employees, their partners, and their clients.

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